Fans of goalball know there’s no talking or cheering during play on the court.
Any noise from the stands would distract the players on the court who rely heavily upon their hearing and other senses to protect their goal. Goalball is a sport played exclusively by athletes who are blind or visually impaired.
Goalball is one of the only Paralympic sports not derived from traditional sports. Instead, the game was invented after the Second World War as a game that soldiers who were blinded in duty could play.
Halifax was the host for the 2019 Goalball National Championships this weekend.
Men and women’s teams from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia took part in the competition while a team from Quebec also competed in the men’s division.
Peter Parsons lives in Halifax and was one of the main organizers of the tournament.
He was also a key contributor on the court with the Nova Scotia men’s team who took home the bronze medal with a narrow 5 to 3 win over Quebec.
“It was great playing in front of friends and family and hearing the crowd cheer really hard after our goals,” said Parsons, following the win.
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All of the athletes are all visually impaired to some degree.
But all of them compete on a level playing feed as they are fitted with blackout goggles — forcing everyone to rely on their other senses and teammates.
“You have three players aside and basically the ball has two bells in it and you roll the ball or semi throw the ball at each other and try and get it in the net,” said Shane Esau, high-performance director with Canadian Blind Sports.
There’s some strategy involved, not unlike a chess match on a volleyball-sized court, as players try to switch up their shots and strategically move the ball to other areas of the court in an attempt to shift opposing players to different positions.
“The players do talk with each other and let each other know where they are and where the ball is on the other side, so they know where it’s coming from,” said Esau.
“These players have to be very fit to be playing nationally and very strong. It’s a three-day tournament where any player might throw the ball anywhere from 400 to 700 times this weekend.”
The Nova Scotia women’s team made it to the bronze medal game but came up short losing 4 to 2 to team British Columbia but following the match the players were more than thrilled for the experience and the chance to compete against the best in the country on their home court.
“It’s a little bit stressful but mostly fun,” said team Nova Scotia’s Jennie Bovard, who relished the opportunity to play in the bronze final.
“It’s always a really, really good learning experience, especially at the National competition where we get to compete against Paralympic elite players who we otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity to get those learning experiences from.”
Bovard’s teammate, Stephanie Berry, agrees and says it’s all about competing at the highest level and learning and growing from that experience.
“Obviously, we didn’t have the outcome that we would have liked to of had,” said Berry. “But we had some stiff competition so we’re really happy and we definitely gave it our all.”
Following the National tournament, a men’s and women’s team is selected to represent Canada.
That team will compete at a Paralympic qualifier tournament being held in Indiana in late June, ahead of the 2020 Paralympic games which will take place in Tokyo.
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